Unlicensed Manhattan Weed Chain Raided By Police, Owners Argue They Were Doing Nothing Wrong


New York cops raided a marijuana dispensary in Manhattan on Tuesday as part of an ongoing battle against the hundreds of illicit weed shops that are popping up all over the city. The incursion into the Empire Cannabis Club chain, however, failed to yield the expected results.

What happened: The NYPD descended on the Eighth Avenue shop in Chelsea accompanied by tax agents who seized products and packed them into a red van, reported the New York Times.

Johnathan Elfand, one of the four owners of Empire’s five locations said the police used force to enter the shop and remove cannabis flower and edibles from the shelves. Several moments after the police left, he added, the store was functioning as usual as a line of regular customers had formed during the raid.

Second Raid: Same Day

Elfand’s sister, Lenore Elfand who is in charge of a Lower East Side Empire shop cleverly avoided the police raid by recording the cops, which is legal, as they attempted to barge in without a search warrant which is not legal. She and the store manager were given tickets requiring them to appear in court on obstruction charges.

Empire's owners have argued that their shops do not sell cannabis, but rather provide something like a concierge service in which its supporters pay a membership fee to access products.

Steve Zissou, attorney for the cannabis chain argued the shops were doing nothing wrong when the officers came in “without warning and without a warrant.”

Lenore Elfand said the raid didn't surprise her. “We’ve known this was coming for a long time, and we’ve been waiting for it.”

No doubt this battle over the Empire’s legal status will be closely watched as illicit shops across New York appear on a regular basis. Some stats say there are at least 1600 in NYC alone.

Illicit Market Troubles

The Empire State has been battling illicit operators for a while. In June the Office of Cannabis Management posted emergency regulations on unlicensed activities.

The move came on the heels of Governor Kathy Hochul’s launch of an interagency task force including agents from the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) and the Department of Taxation and Finance to seize unlicensed marijuana products and shut down unlicensed shops in New York City.

The emergency rules followed up on a recently approved measure that would allow state authorities to shut down unlicensed shops and levy fines of up to $200,000.

Why is so difficult for New York to curb illegal marijuana operations?

One of the reasons is that the state is way behind schedule in terms of issuing licenses for legal dispensaries. With only 19 dispensaries operating across the entire state, customers don’t have many legal options to choose from. Other reasons are likely force of habit and, of course, prices. 

Want to talk more about these thorny issues facing not only New York but other states? Join us at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Chicago on Sept 27-28. Get your tickets today before prices go up. Secure a spot at the epicenter of cannabis investment and branding.

Photo: Courtesy of Jalen Banks on Unsplash

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Posted In: CannabisNewsPoliticsMarketsGeneralEmpire Cannabis ClubJohnatan ElfandLenore ElfandManhattan cannabisNew York CannabisNew York Illegal CannabisSteve Zissou
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